BALOG COLUMN: Time for a vote on mayor's role
It's time to put it to a vote, Summerville.
As Bo Petersen reported, Town Council wants to know if it's legal to pay Mayor Bill Collins $50,000 a year in addition to his mayor's salary of $15,000 for work he's done as acting town administrator.
They're asking the town attorney for guidance on the legality of a possible contract with the mayor for assuming certain town administrator duties. When he did that, by the way, it was touted as a cost-saving measure. (Technically it still is, since $50,000 is only about one-third of the administrator's salary.)
Collins ran on a platform of migrating toward a strong-mayor form of government. People in Summerville obviously supported that.
Even Councilman Aaron Brown, who voted against Monday's action, said he believes the mayor has a vision for the town. But it's time to let the people decide what kind vision they have for the town, and luckily, state law has a procedure for that.
Whether Town Council should have approved Collins' change to an unofficial role as both administrator and mayor is water under the bridge.
Now is the time to make a change. But there are a couple of things to consider before moving forward.
First of all, just because Collins has the skills to do this, who knows what the next mayor will bring to the table?
Assuming Collins isn't looking to challenge Berlin Myers for most consecutive terms as mayor, sooner or later somebody else will come along to run the town. Will that person be as suited to the dual roles as Collins?
Secondly, is this where Summerville wants to go? Does it want to be more like Charleston or North Charleston, which both have the strong mayor form of government? Summerville has always prided itself on being something a little different, with a different identity, a different feel. Switching government structures will change that.
The council can pass an ordinance calling for a vote or 15 percent of the registered voters in Summerville can put together a petition, and everyone can vote on it in November. Bill Taylor, with the S.C. Municipal Association, said that even if council wants to move forward with the pay increase for the mayor, a contract is probably not the way to go, though the State Ethics Commission said such a move is allowed under the Ethics Act. A mayoral salary increase could be passed now but would not take effect until the next election Summerville has where at least two council members are up for re-election.
End double dipping
Now, nothing illegal is happening here. Under the strong council form of government, Summerville's council can assign administrative duties to anyone they want.
Just like nothing illegal is happening in Charleston County, where county attorney Joe Dawson is getting paid $90,000 a year above his $172,000 minimum salary to manage the county's solid-waste program. Ask Charleston County Councilman Joe Qualey how he feels about that.
Nothing changes the fact that double dipping just looks bad, no matter how it happens or what's allowed under the law.
At least Summerville can resolve its issue by putting it to a referendum.
Reach Melanie Balog at 937-5565 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor's note: Earlier versions of this story needed clarification regarding the procedure for increasing the mayor's salary. The Post and Courier regrets the error.